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ASU not quite ready for prime time, and that’s okay

TEMPE — So, that didn’t go very well.

Arizona State had a chance on the big stage — one shot, one opportunity — and they ended up with a sweater full of mom’s spaghetti.

The well-oiled, chrome-helmeted machine that is Oregon acted like a 325-pound bouncer fiercely guarding the velvet ropes of the elite group of Pac-12 teams. After falling behind 7-0 just three plays into the game, the Ducks simply brushed themselves off and reeled off 43 straight points before halftime on their way to an easy 43-21 win in front of 71,004 fans at Sun Devil Stadium.

Arizona State head coach Todd Graham called this the biggest game he’s ever coached in. And it was. It was an opportunity for the Sun Devils to crash the national relevance party way ahead of schedule. Nobody expected the Sun Devils, who imploded after a 6-2 start in 2011, to be in the conversation for the Pac-12 South crown.

Oregon didn’t want to participate in ASU’s coronation. They proved once again that they are the elite team in the conference and one of the best in the country.

While Arizona State fell on their face on national television, I’m here to remind you, it’s okay. The fact of the matter is that this is one loss, and Graham still has the program headed in the right direction. I know that’s hard to believe in the aftermath of a 22-point beatdown (thanks for that, Mark May).

But keep in mind, Graham has guided this Sun Devil team to a 5-2 mark and a 3-1 conference record with many of the same players that were complicit in throwing in the towel during the “Great Meltdown of 2011” — at least that’s how I remember it.

Let’s remember, this was also a statement game for Oregon. Many around the country doubted the Ducks’ accomplishments against an easy schedule with five home games and a neutral-site game in Duck-friendly Seattle. Many thought that redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota would struggle against a good team on the road in his first true test in a hostile environment. He didn’t.

Oregon made their statement, while ASU’s eluded them. The key is how this team responds. In nine days, the Devils will host a beatable UCLA team in Tempe. A win would push them to 4-1 in conference play and would make them bowl eligible. From what has been on display from this year’s Sun Devil squad, adverse effects from a humbling loss like this one to Oregon are hard to picture. Graham, his staff and his players have come too far to roll off the rails.

This is when the buy-in to Graham’s teachings truly get a test from the players with the pitchforks on their helmets.

I think they’re gonna be just fine.